Review: The Musician: A Horror Opera for Children, Belfast Ensemble (online)

Over the past few weeks the annual Belfast Children’s Festival has been entertaining children up to the age of 17 with the many performances, interactive events and exhibitions on offer. One of the shows to be streamed as part of the festival is the Belfast Ensemble’s The Musician: A Horror Opera for Children. Written and composed by Conor Mitchell, this darkly comic opera is a reimagining of the famous tale The Pied Piper, taking the legend back to its roots. 

A young orphaned boy (Sarah Richmond) finds himself on the streets, mistreated by the people he meets, until one day he encounters a travelling musician (Paul Carey Jones). When he shows the musician kindness, the man returns the favour by giving him a flute and teaching him the magic of music. But having discovered his new talent, the boy has to make a decision and choose whether to help these people or seek bloody revenge. 

Filmed live in the Lyric Theatre Belfast, The Musician is the only Northern Irish opera created in lockdown, and is an impressive show, both vocally and visually. Though the set, a raised stage of artificial grass, is relatively simple, the use of projections adds to the atmosphere and helps to build tension throughout; whether it’s through the use of images of the Traveller and narrator (Matthew Cavan) watching over the action, or the addition of rats (not real ones!) that plague the town later in the show. Surrounding the stage are the socially distanced 16-piece orchestra, led by Tom Brady, who bring to life Conor Mitchell’s score as it builds momentum throughout. 

The small cast of five are hugely talented and really are one of the highlights of this show. Maeve McGreevy may only have a minor role as the Mouse, but her dance (choreographed by Jennifer Rooney) is effective and sure to capture the imagination of younger viewers in particular. Paul Carey Jones has a powerful baritone voice and really makes his presence felt, while Rebecca Murphy’s vocals are equally stunning and she’s suitably nasty as the aptly named Vile Girl. Sarah Richmond commands the stage as the Boy as he grows in character and chooses his path in life. As the narrator and mysterious Traveller, Matthew Cavan does a great job of telling this intriguing story with great enthusiasm, his tone certain to appeal to a younger audience. 

The Musician is an intriguing exploration of the concept of nature vs nature, and really comes alive after a somewhat subdued start. Although billed as a ‘horror’ it isn’t too scary for the younger audience, and may appeal to older children in particular, as younger viewers may struggle to engage for the full hour’s running time with the varied pacing. 

With a little work to ensure the momentum builds throughout the whole piece, this could be a great show. The Musician is an imaginative and clever production with some stunning performances and is certainly a creative way to encourage youngsters to engage with opera.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Musician: A Horror Opera for Children is streaming online from Friday 12 – Sunday 14 March 2021.

Photo credit: Neil Harrison

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